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Northwest wine
Exploring the wines of Washington and Oregon

08/14/14
By Stefanie Phillips food@hippopress.com



When you think about wine regions, a list of the major players probably comes to mind: Italy, France, California. But there are many, many other places making wine. In fact, reportedly every state in the United States makes wine. In 2008, a writer from Time was determined to try one from each. I haven’t read his whole account, but I applaud his efforts.
 
One of the country’s emerging wine regions is our northwest corner — namely Washington and Oregon. After doing some research, I can’t wait to try more of their wines. 
 
Oregon
The little state of Oregon has an impressive 17 wine regions with more than 540 wineries growing 72 different grapes, according to the Oregon Wine Advisory Board. They credit their varied terroir, a French term that includes includes soil, location and topography, and diverse climate with their grape-growing success. This allows growers to produce both cool- and warm-climate grapes, all in one state. 
 
While some states have just one overseeing wine association, Oregon has sub-associations organized geographically to promote the wine trails in their area. Wineries and regions are categorized by AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and non-AVAs. Here are some highlights of the state’s AVA regions.
 
• Applegate Valley
Located in the southwestern corner of the state, this area is a smaller piece of the Rogue Valley AVA. Winemaking here dates back to the 1800s when early settlers planted grapes. Oregon’s first official winery, Valley View Winery, was opened in 1873 but closed in 1907 during Prohibition. The area saw a rebirth of winemaking during the 1970s, when many family wineries started producing high-quality wines.
 
The main grapes grown in this area are merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and chardonnay. The climate is moderate, with a warm, dry growing season, hot days and cooler nights.
 
• Walla Walla Valley
Walla Walla Valley is one of Oregon’s regions I am most familiar with, as I have tried a few wines from here. It’s located near the northern corner of the state by the Canadian border, where there are four major categories of soil: cobblestone river gravel, loess (fine, wind-blown silt), deep silts and thin silts. Some of the grapes grown here include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling, chardonnay and syrah, just to name a few.
 
• Willamette Valley
This region runs along the western corridor of Oregon as the state’s largest AVA. It has a relatively young histor; it was only 50 years that, when some winemakers decided to grow grapes there despite advice from others that this would never work. They forged the way for pinot noir grapes in Willamette Valley, later adding pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling. According to the Oregon Wine Advisory Board site, it is now known as “one of the premier wine producing areas in the world.” It is best known for its award winning pinot noir, but is recognized for other varietals as well. 
 
Try this: One of my favorite Oregon wine producers is Firesteed. I discovered their wines at a Boston wine tasting years ago and I buy it whenever I can. I really like their pinot noir and their pinot gris. These wines are readily available at local New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets for about $15 a bottle. The labels are pretty too, so they also make a nice gift, especially for equestrian friends. 
 
Washington
Washington state has 43,000 acres of grapes, according to the Washington State Wine Commission, and 13 AVA regions. Nationally, Washington ranks second as the largest premium wine producer. Here, there are more than 800 wineries, 350 grape growers and 40 varietals. They are really packing a lot of wine into their geographical area. 
 
The top wines produced here are riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris for the whites and cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah for the reds. Overall, the state produces slightly more white wine, 51 percent versus 49 percent red.
Here is a little bit more about a few of Washington’s wine regions.
 
• Walla Walla Valley
Washington has its own Walla Walla Valley near the Oregon border with almost 100 wineries. This region dates back to the 1850s when grapes were planted by Italian immigrants. Many varietals are grown here but the main grapes are cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.
 
• Puget Sound
You may not think of wineries when you think of Puget Sound, but there are 45 wineries located here growing mainly madeleine angevine, siegerebbe and muller-thurgau grapes. The growing season is sunnier and drier than many areas of Europe, with summers that are long, mild and dry. 
 
Try this: One of my favorites is Kung Fu Girl riesling from the Columbia Valley. The bottle is fun and the wine is good too. Try it with Chinese Thai food or other spicy dishes. 





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